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Interview with Janice Sharp

Aired March 30, 2010 - 16:49:00   ET




JANICE SHARP, GARY MCKINNON'S MOTHER: It's had a terrible effect on his mental state. He has Asperger's. He has terrible physical heart pains every day. He's been to see a specialist. If someone touches him in the shoulder, he jumps. If the door goes, he thinks he's being dragged off.

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Janis Sharp has campaigned tirelessly for British computer hacker, Gary McKinnon, her son, to remain in the U.K. McKinnon, who has Asperger's Syndrome, is facing extradition to the United States for breaking into American computer systems in 2001 and 2002. He admits intentionally gaining unauthorized access, but says he was simply doing research to find out whether the U.S. Government was covering up the existence of UFOs.

That's not how the American authorities see it. They claim he carried out the biggest military computer hack of all time and cost the government close to a million dollars.

If convicted in the U.S., he faces up to 60 years in jail.

Gary McKinnon's fight against extradition has drawn support from a host of politicians and celebrities, in part because of his medical condition.


FOSTER: David Gilmore from the rock band Pink Floyd, along with Bob Geldof and Chrissie Hynde, have released a song called "Chicago: Change the World," in support of his cause.


FOSTER: But the driving force behind the campaign has been his mother, a musician and author of children's books.

Janis Sharp is your Connector of the Day.


FOSTER: We'll speak to Janis in just a moment.

But first, a few facts on Asperger's Syndrome.

According to Britain's National Autistic Society, the condition affects how a person makes sense of the world and processes information about it. Generally, you can't tell that someone has Asperger's just by looking at them. It tends to become apparent in social communication and interaction.

People with Asperger's Syndrome have fewer problems actually speaking than people with other forms of autism and they generally have average or above average intelligence.

When I spoke to Janis Sharp, I started her -- by asking her, first of all, just for an update, really, about Gary's case.


SHARP: Well, the next court hearing is the 25th and 26th of May. And it's a judicial review against the whole secretary's decision that Gary should be extradited in spite of the new evidence that had been put forward. But no, there's actually more evidence which the solicitors feel is quite compelling. It's about Gary's mental health and the deterioration of his mental health, basically.

FOSTER: So when you described his mental health, how would you describe it right now?

SHARP: Oh, it's horrendous.

I mean when you think of it, can you keep someone in a heightened state of stress for eight years?

And you wouldn't do this to an animal. You wouldn't be allowed to. And to have someone every day you're in fear and terror that you've been dragged -- and Gary has Asperger's Syndrome, but quite apart from that, it's gone beyond that, because you can't possibly be in that heightened state of stress that you're either fight or flight or Gary was suicidal, which is another option people take.

If you don't do this, you almost have to escape somehow. And so your mental health just deteriorates, because you actually can't face it.

FOSTER: Cliff O'Sullivan asks: "How has the whole case affected your life and that of your nearest and your dearest, apart from Gary?"

SHARP: Well, it basically puts it on hold. You can't do anything because you don't know what the future holds. And because it's my son, it's on my mind every second, every week and second of every day. I think of how I can fight it, who I can contact, what I can do. So you don't have another life.

Also, as far as earning a living, it's very difficult because you don't have the time. This is 24-7. People imagine we have a campaign headquarters. We don't. We have me in front of the computer. And I just -- I sit until 4:00 in the morning sometimes and can't stop.

And so for Gary, it's the worst of all, because only he is literally facing being dragged across there. But for everyone, it's actually eight years of torture. And that -- that's hard to deal with.

FOSTER: And this is just about whether he's going to stand trial. This is just the extradition process.

So if it goes beyond this, you're going to have an even more lengthy process, aren't you?

Bruna Zanelli says: "If you had the opportunity, what would you say to President Barack Obama regarding this horrendous situation?," she calls it.

SHARP: Please, Obama, do you want the first person ever extradited for a computer crime to be a UFO guy with Asperger's Syndrome?

It doesn't look good for America, it doesn't look good for the U.K. And no one in the world has ever been extradited for computer misuse. And Gary has always denied the alleged damage. With the damage, it wasn't an extraditable offense. Had the American prosecutors applied to extradited in 2002, they would have to have proved the damage and shown evidence. But they waited and he was re-arrested in mid-2005, because by then, the U.K. Was using a treaty -- a one-sided treaty that it signed with America. And now America doesn't have to provide any evidence whatsoever to extradite any British citizen. They only have to say I suspect.

FOSTER: You admit that there -- you dispute the damage that was caused.

SHARP: Absolutely.

FOSTER: But what do you and Gary admit he did do?

SHARP: Gary admitted the computer misuse. He admitted he did...

FOSTER: So it's a crime?

SHARP: It's a crime. Not an extra...

FOSTER: He admitted a crime.

SHARP: Not an extraditable crime, only with the damage was it extraditable.

FOSTER: The crime that you feel he should face trial for in the U.K.?

SHARP: In the U.K.

FOSTER: You accept that?

SHARP: Absolutely.

FOSTER: You just don't want it done in America?

SHARP: Absolutely.

FOSTER: But there's a fair system in America, isn't there?

SHARP: It's just not the point. It's not an extraditable offense, so why should he be?

And, also, people say well, Asperger's isn't a defense. Of course it isn't. But no one with Asperger's or without Asperger's has ever been extradited for a computer crime.

So why discriminate against someone who has and think well, you're the only one we're going to take, because he admitted to the computer misuse with no lawyer?

He signed a piece of paper, which is in the transcripts of the police, that was illegible and neither the police nor Gary could read that. That says a thing -- that someone who is naive because of the Asperger's has done, whereas someone else just wouldn't do that.

FOSTER: J.K. says: "As a person with family members with autism, I think that despite your son's condition, he should be held accountable. Don't the most people with Asperger's consider themselves unique, yet fully capable?"

SHARP: The same thing again. Gary has never denied responsibility. He's never said that he didn't want to be tried. He wants to be tried in his own country by a jury of his peers, which is his right under the Magna Carta. And, once again, no one has ever been.

And, also, the thing about the biggest military hack is untrue. In the last court hearing, the judge has said that others who have been before him, British people that hacked into the Pentagon, accused of almost starting a Third World War, were not extradited. It wasn't requested.

There was also a guy from Israel who had hacked into the military computers. No extradition request was made.

Basically, Gary was naive. He admitted to computer misuse and I think that's the reason this has gone totally out of proportion.


FOSTER: Janis Sharp there, speaking about her son, who says he did actually find evidence of UFOs when he went into that computer system.

Anyway, tomorrow we'll be speaking to the American girl next door, whose voice catapulted her to fame. "American Idol" winner Carrie Underwood is your Connector of the Day. She talks to us about success and what's next for her in 2010.

Send us in your questions -- questions to any of our Connectors. Remember to tell us where you're writing in from, though. Head to